Category Archives: physics

How did the Doppler effect help narrow the search for MH370?

The final fate of Malaysia flight MH370 is still a terrible, unresolved mystery, and I can’t imagine the anguish the relatives of those on-board must be going through, but last week some work by the British satellite communications firm, Inmarsat, helped to narrow down the search.

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How do asteroids bring Armageddon?

By slamming into the planet at many times the speed of sound, triggering tidal waves, setting off earthquakes, vaporising anything in the impact radius, and causing centuries long dust storms, I hear you say.

Well, yeah.

But I’m not asking the question in the physical repercussions sense. I’m asking the question in the the sense of how asteroids in relatively stable, near-circular orbits out in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, can be dislodged and get into the inner system where they could cause, in Busta Rymes infamous phrase, “Extiction Level Events”.

If we can understand that, then maybe we can save ourselves having to send Bruce Willis out to save the planet.

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Why shouldn’t you get your science from Prometheus?

Maybe it was my age, maybe it was the captivating performances, maybe it was the spine-tingling terror that the original film induced, but when I watched Alien sometime in the early Nineties (after hearing about from some kid at school who kept impersonating the grunts in the second film, Aliens), I came away breathless with awe. And I don’t remember having too much of a problem with the science either.

Skip forward twenty years, and oh-boy, do I wish I could hold the latest chapter–or prequel–in the Alien franchise, Prometheus, with the same reverence. Not only did I come away thinking that the film failed artistically, emotionally, and most of all, logically, it also must qualify as one of the most excreable examples of Hollywood attempting something the media-execs probably go round calling “Scienze”.

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How can you survive the Apocalypse? Part Three: Food

Tesco’s motto might beĀ Every Little Helps, but in an apocalypse Britain’s biggest supermarket will probably be offering nothing–unless you raid one of its depots early before the rest of the desperate get there. Then you might be able to snag a year’s supply of petfood or something.

But, pillaging aside, what can the appliance of science do for your eating habits when Armageddon falls?

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How does the quadratic equation help robots juggle?

Like it or not, over the coming decades robots will play an increasing role in our lives. They will clean our homes, mix our cocktails, even drive our cars. They may even become street entertainers, amazing us with their catching skills!

What has any of this got to do with the humble quadratic equation? The seemingly innocuous polynomial with the complicated “solution” that’s found in the front pages of exam papers, and is the bane of many high school mathematics students’ lives.

Read on to find out.

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